It’s all about Emotional Ownership, our defence against anxiety

It’s all about Emotional Ownership, our defence against anxiety


norman lebrecht

June 01, 2018

From our diarist, Anthea Kreston:



Regret, anxiety, emotional ownership: that’s what it comes down to. I am on a flight to Tokyo (my first business class), where my Quartet, already landed, is waiting for me. I go from airplane to stage for the first concert on this 11-day tour of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan.

Last night, I played with the Humboldt Streich Trio, with my husband Jason and Volker Jacobsen, the original violist for 18 years of the Artemis Quartet. We played in Hannover at the adventurous KünsteFestSpiel, run by the effervescent and boundary-pushing conductor Ingo Metzmacher. Who would have thought, 20 years ago, drinking beer in Schloss Elmau (Bavaria) together, that we would be again playing, laughing, and performing together in another millennium, another castle.

Volker turned to me during a rehearsal, and said – “every musician has one thing they are obsessed with, and can’t stop talking about, and yours is Emotional Ownership. You need an EO stamp!”. And it is true – to me, it is about knowing where each person has the main voice, and then taking that moment to the extreme, owning every nook and cranny of it – playing it with every ounce of your soul.

There are many obstacles to Emotional Ownership, but in the most fundamental sense, I believe there are two. Anxiety and regret. Regret is the past, emotional ownership is the present, and anxiety is the future. The only way to have pure EO is to have a clean slate – you cannot be infected, even by 1%, with regret or anxiety. But, our detailed education and realities of the near-impossibility of tasks at hand can make regret and anxiety a disease – a hamster wheel we can’t jump off of.

Emotional Ownership demands that we live only in the moment – in the millisecond – nothing else exists or matters – and our whole lives up until this point have made this moment possible. We have to be the best we have ever been – every time, better, more committed, more honest, demanding of ourselves to create the impossible. When something goes not go according to plan, we can click out of that flow – our hearts are put on hold while we get stuck in that moment, reliving our regret. Forward stops, and we stay, even as the music continues forward. Once you allow regret to sneak in, your defenses are down, and it will start to happen more and more often, taking longer each time to escape its clutches and to return to the present, which is, by that point, weakened and injured.

Anxiety is no better – and encompasses everything from thinking about your audience (whether that is a teacher, audition committee, colleagues or concert audience), how this moment will affect your future, or second-guessing your personal preparation. Everyone deals with anxiety in different ways, but relinquishing yourself to these moments of self-doubt are crippling. We have no control over these things – how the audience feels is up to them, not up to us, and our level of preparation is fixed at that moment we step into stage. We cannot change that.

Stepping onto stage last night, I was exhausted. I am still coping with burnout from the US tour, and my arms are on the mend from double tendinitis – oh and I crashed my Segway in Budapest a couple of days ago, landing sideways in a puddle and have huge bruises on my forearms. I haven’t been able to practice this program as much as I would have liked to, but rehearsals have been thorough, supportive, and smart. The program itself is impossibly crazy – starting with the Schoenberg String Trio, then onto the hour-long Rihm Trio, which is a tangle of chaos, power-playing and extreme micro-management. So I have everything tilted against me. Regret and anxiety are a certain. But, I read last week that laughter reduces inflammation, and as I turn to my colleagues, we give ourselves one last chuckle, promising to still be friends after the concert, no matter what craziness happens, and with determination and mutual support, we have the time of our lives. Carpe Diem!


  • Alexander says:

    I think I do understand what you mean speaking on EO. What about some yoga or any other practices which can take you to the state of having more love and self-confidence ?
    The more confidence one has the less anxiety it will bring in the future … less anxiety – more love and more confidence again ….
    Some of anxiety factors are connected with the wish to control situation ( just my opinion, of course). Having more confidence in the situation ( trust or credibility if you please) breaks the limits set by our previous wish to control , sharing duties with friends helps, sharing ideas is the first step to share duties and responsibilities ….
    just a few thoughts on the subject …
    Another great way to lower EO is to make some gateaways every now and then – bathing in a salt water helps – if you cannot go to the sea try to take salt bath at home – it really helps -I guarantee 😉
    stop ranting here 😉
    just so 😉

  • Marg says:

    I like this, Anthea! Living in the present moment is perhaps another way of talking about emotional ownership when applying it to every day living. This is central to the teaching of meditation and mindfulness. So hard to do – regret (or embarrassment at mistakes) can continue to plague with the ‘what if’ thinking we fall into. And our culture predisposes us to anxiety about the future (next hour, tomorrow, next week ….). To be present to right now, fully emotionally invested…that is a wonderful maxim to live (and play) by!